Testing Testing

Indiana students outscore U.S. peers on national science test, but many still struggle

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Indiana students posted slightly higher scores in 2015 on an important national science exam — both compared to their peers across the country and to Indiana students who last took the test in 2009.

On average, fourth- and eighth-graders across the country posted 4-point gains on the 300-point National Assessment of Educational Progress test, administered to a sample of students in most states last year.

Indiana fourth-graders did a bit better on the 2015 NAEP science test compared to the fourth-graders who took it in 2009, scoring six points higher. Last year’s fourth graders also scored, on average, six points higher than the their peers in other states.

Indiana eighth-graders also scored higher than they did in 2009, up four points to 156 and besting the national average of 153.

Read: Indiana rank continues to rise on the national NAEP test in reading and math

Despite the improvement, most Indiana students who took the test still did not meet the exam’s key “proficiency” standard in science, with just 42 percent of fourth-graders and 36 percent of eighth-graders passing that threshold.

High standards have long been characteristic of NAEP, which calls itself the “nation’s report card” because it has long been the only way to compare students across states. Recently, states have cited gaps between NAEP scores and scores on their own tests to toughen their academic standards and exams.

The latest scores come after many states have had new reading and math standards in place and after years of renewed attention to science instruction. Schools and districts across the country have invested in what they are calling STEM education, an acronym that describes a new approach to incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math into the school day.

The U.S. Department of Education has encouraged the shift, launching a program to recruit science teachers and expand computer science instruction.

“The data themselves don’t tell us why we’ve seen these improvements, but we do think investments we’ve made over the past eight years have made a difference,” Education Secretary John King said.

The next phase, King said, is for high schools to add more advanced science and math courses — something that the new federal education law earmarks extra funding for.

“We know from our civil rights data that there many students who attend high schools where you can’t even take Algebra II or physics,” he said.

Some Indiana educators and policymakers have long advocated for giving students expanded access to science, math and applied-science classes.

For example, Indianapolis Public Schools plans to dramatically expand its partnership with Project Lead The Way next year thanks to a $250,000 grant from American Structure Point, an Indianapolis-based engineering firm. Project Lead The Way is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that develops curriculum for applied science and project-based classes.

“The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) emphasis is really the 21st century curriculum,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett at an event announcing the grant earlier this year. “This kind of emphasis needs to be made all over Marion County.”

rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.